AFRAID OF THE DARK BY KEN DE COSTA      One of the more common questions I get when people sound me out about paranormal investigations is, "Why do investigations take place in the dark or at night?" While my initial response is typically a truism (said with tongue firmly in cheek), "It looks better on TV", I think it's a great question and one that moves me to examine the situation a little deeper.         We've all heard various theories regarding night-based investigations spread about. Many of these center around pre-determined times like "The Witching Hour" and "Dead Time." I've heard a rather famous paranormal couple explain that 3 am spirit visitations of a malevolent nature are a type of insult to the Holy Trinity or, in another variation, have to do with Christ being resurrected 12 hours after his 3 pm death. I would suggest that these types of beliefs are more superstition-based - if not downright gratuitous - than something supported by any type of raw data.         On the other hand, there is the more pseudo-scientific slant which usually presupposes spirits to be electromagnetic energy that cannot be seen during daylight hours because they fall outside the visual spectrum of light and reside in the ultraviolet or infrared range, which (perhaps conveniently) cannot be discerned by human eyesight. To our rescue came the advent of infrared, full-spectrum and thermal imaging cameras, the last two of which - at least at this point in time - will require you to part with most of your lottery winnings to purchase.        A third, more reasonable (albeit under-analyzed) reason for searching out the paranormal in the dark is that we have been programmed to do so. In our culture, many associate darkness with the unknown. To take it one step further, many fear the unknown, hence darkness = fear. What better place then to encounter something supernatural or foreboding than a darkened room, attic or spooky basement? It is through this association that we are moved to believe these conditions are paramount for witnessing or investigating the paranormal. Conversely, it can also be the type of environment that fosters misidentification, irrational fear and suggestion.        Modern media also plays a distinct role in our perception of the paranormal. How many times can you recall anything truly horrifying related to the supernatural happening to a character in a movie, novel or television show in broad daylight? The most successful screen writers and novelists are very in tune with the human condition and realize full well how to exploit and manipulate emotions. After all, it's the very essence of good writing. Put any person into a dark room, add some creepy atmospheric music or sounds, build the tension toward the inevitable confrontation with the unseen "entity" and you have a winner.        Paranormal investigators are fully aware that a vast number of claims of activity take place in the waking hours of daylight. If an event repeats itself or has occurred during the daytime, why wouldn't you want to investigate under those same conditions? What justifies conducting investigations strictly under cover of darkness? If we cannot see very well in the dark to begin with, isn't it possible we could miss something right in front of our eyes? After all, not every apparition is reported to appear as a glowing specter.         When conducting investigations under no or low-light conditions there are human foibles called 'misperceptions' that one should always be wary of. Your other senses may become more heightened in the dark, but this can also lead to overreaction to certain stimuli, such as heat and cold or the sense of being 'touched' by something unseen. This is particularly true in situations where you have a certain expectation for something to happen. In such cases, you may end up scaring the hell out of yourself and everyone else for no reason at all.        Of all human senses, vision sends the most information to the brain. There is no way your eyes can take in the entire panorama in front of them and notice every detail in it simultaneously. Instead they focus on one part of the total visual picture - usually whatever is moving or directly in the focal area.        If you see something in the dark you don't immediately recognize, your brain will try to assign it a known value based on stored memories. If it is a shadow or a darkened area, your brain might interpret it as a human form, essentially editing what it sees. As it does, it might even subconsciously add arms and legs to the shape, as it associates those with the human form. If you, the observer, believe in ghosts and spirits and are already armed with information that suggests they exist in this particular location, you may make an immediate and dramatic leap of faith and be firmly convinced you are witnessing something paranormal. This most often takes place when seeing things in your peripheral vision, commonly expressed as "out of the corner of my eye."      There are two types of photoreceptors located in the retina that are crucial to sight: rods and cones. Rods work when there is a very low level of light. It only takes a small amount of light (photons) to activate a rod. Rods will not assist in any way with seeing in color, which is why we tend to see in grayscale in the dark. The human eye has over 100 million rod cells. Cones are used to see colors and need much more light to work at their optimum. There are three types of cones: blue, green, and red and there are about 6 million of them in the human eye. Animals have different numbers of rods and cones and those that see extremely well in the dark have a great deal more rods than humans do.      Interestingly, because rods are responsible for our ability to see in dark conditions and in the grayscale mode, this might explain why things seen in the peripheral in the absence of light are described as “shadowy” or “a dark figure”.        Anything your eyes cannot immediately recognize is interpreted from the brain's short or long term memory bank as something it has witnessed before under similar circumstances. Based on that, our minds also expect the object to behave in a certain way. If it does not, the mind is sometimes tricked into thinking it is seeing something paranormal in nature.            Interestingly, as children are said to be more sensitive to the paranormal, one wonders if that is perhaps because they have not yet had the level of exposure to the world that adults have had, thereby allowing them to misperceive more things because of a limited storage of memories to draw from.        A condition called autokinesis may also result from "lights-out" investigations. This is a phenomenon where small objects viewed in the dark can appear to move if you stare at them. In dark or low light areas, objects can be seen more clearly when looked at slightly off-center. In daylight the opposite is true. When we view things in the dark as we normally would in daylight (straight on), the chance of misperception increases.         This is not the same as a hallucination, which doesn't require something tangible or genuine to trigger it. Nor can a hallucination be witnessed by multiple people. Misperceptions almost always occur when viewing objects in the dark or that are too far from our range of vision to recognize them.         It should also be mentioned that nighttime investigations also present a certain element of danger in terms of navigating in darkened areas. We always suggest you make every effort to do a daytime or at least well-lit walkthrough of the location before venturing into it at night. Familiarize yourself with the layout and any potential obstacles you might encounter and take note of them - perhaps even map the location to better identify them.        If activity is at its apex during the day, then naturally that's when you should be present, but there are instances where nighttime investigations work to your advantage and serve a very practical purpose. One that has nothing to do with ghostly legends or preconceived notions that spirits only come out at night.         Most obvious is the level of control you can have over a location at night without the steady noise or movements associated with normal daytime activities. It is much easier to limit - if not fully eliminate - most of the audible and physical interference caused by an outside human presence. Turning off power can help an investigation in terms of removing many false EMF (electromagnetic frequency) readings caused by common appliances and sources of electricity. (If air-conditioners and heating systems must be left on, be aware of the resulting cold and hot spots they might create.)        Obtaining valid evidence without the possibility of contamination from external sources is crucial. Contamination can result from the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic outside the location, footsteps, bangs, radio or TV signals and simple casual conversations elsewhere in or around the area.        Limiting and identifying existing contamination applies to nighttime outdoor locations as well, although it can be a bit more difficult in those cases depending on how isolated they are. The bottom line is there is much less chance of being fooled into thinking you have recorded or witnessed something paranormal when the normal has been determined, noted, eliminated or adequately controlled.        A lesser but equally valid reason for investigating in the dark is the availability of both investigator and client. Most people involved in paranormal investigation have normal day jobs as do most clients and it is only after working hours that both can meet for the examination. While common interest may revolve around paranormal activity, most still have otherwise normal lives to attend to. Unless immediate attention is required or a certain level of flexibility exists, most investigations will usually take place on weekend nights to accommodate schedules.        Lastly, for groups or individuals using infrared technology in the form of stationary or hand-held cameras, this type of sensitive equipment is designed to function much better at night when reflection and glare is less of an issue, thereby limiting the chances of obtaining false data. Just be aware that your infrared cameras main function should be to document the investigation and track movements of the investigators. Capturing paranormal phenomena on video is very rare and often a matter of sheer good fortune rather than careful planning.        There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to investigating the paranormal under dark or low-light conditions. Passing headlights in particular have created many false positives as their reflection on walls and glassy surfaces can appear to be something anomalous. (However, there is also a question of daylight causing more shadow effects, which can also be a great source of misidentification.)       There is also a growing misconception that night investigations are paramount to success and that is simply wrong. Any phenomena reported should be investigated under the same conditions it tends to materialize in, be that daytime, nighttime or, in some instances, a combination of both.        Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a tendency for many to imitate the investigative methods or techniques they see on TV in the many paranormal-based shows. In a few cases this undoubtedly can be of some help to new investigators as a sort of baseline on how to proceed. On rare occasions, we may even see something new to the field that we wish to incorporate into our own methodology, but only after careful consideration.        What we do need to bear in mind is that certain camera techniques work better in establishing a dramatic mood and creating an eerie atmosphere for the viewer. Recording in low light or darkness certainly ranks high in that regard. Is this leading to a conclusion that "lights-out" investigations are all a product of smoke and mirrors? Certainly not.        You, as an investigator, viewer or just someone who is curious about the paranormal must establish what is actually necessary to get results and what is not.
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